I recently read that the average short-term memory span of a dog is two minutes. Based on my experience I think this may be generous.
For instance, we adopted Gidgit as a puppy. She has always been let back inside and given a treat when she comes to the door. Always. Yet, whenever she’s ready to come in, she practically panics. Scratching, whimpering, yelping… the instant she walks up the steps. She is absolutely petrified that I will leave her there waiting, she’s afraid I’ve forgotten her, and she is riddled with anxiety. Of course this makes me lose my mind.
Often times I’m waiting just inside, or walking towards the door, or even turning the handle while she has an instant breakdown on the other side. Other times, I’m in the middle of something, or have run back to the kitchen to warm up my coffee, or just don’t feel like being rushed by twenty pounds of wrinkles. I know she’s fine—it’s all under control. Yet still, the whining, the whimpering, the yelping. It’s all very exhausting.
I’ve tried to reason with her. Very calmly I’ll tell her, “Gidgit, you have never been left behind. You have always had every need met. You sleep in my bed. You know that I will let you in. I always let you in. YOU DON’T NEED TO PANIC.”
She won’t hear it. It doesn’t seem to matter what previous experience tells her, she is still fearful, still unsure.
Unfortunately, we’re the same way, aren’t we? The second we sense an obstacle, a closed-door, or an unclear path, fear creeps in. It doesn’t much matter that God has proven himself faithful time and time again. We become frantic and upset, we worry we’re forgotten, and we cry out with our hearts, “God, why have you left us here?”
I’m pretty sure that phrase has actually come out of my mouth, in a prayer that sounded a lot like an accusation. And there are most definitely times when my posture has resembled that of a frantic, fearful pug scratching and yelping at the door, “God! You’ve forgotten me! I’m going to die here! Why would you do this to me!”
Even worse, what is often mixed with my lack of trust is overwhelming guilt. I think of it as my winning combination—I’m such a super-Christian. Not only am I drowning in doubt, but I also have a sandbag of guilt strapped around my ankles. How could I be so faithless? Don’t I know better? If God hasn’t abandoned me yet, this will definitely send him packing.
Yet God is gracious even in our lack of trust. At our most faithless moments he is right beside us. And not only does he not abandon us, he extends comfort and assurance that we really shouldn’t need and truly don’t deserve. This is grace.
The starkest example of this in the Bible is Elijah. In 1 Kings 18 we find Elijah in a crazy battle against the prophets of Baal. God performs quite the miracle on behalf of Elijah, dramatically revealing his power, fire from heaven and all. Now, if I’m Elijah I’d be feeling pretty confident at this point. Not only did he come out on top, but he also witnessed God’s power through him and for him. God has got his back and he has absolutely nothing to fear—until of course the very next chapter.
In chapter 19 Queen Jezebel (who I can’t help but picture as an evil R-rated Disney queen) hears of what Elijah has done and vows to take his life. Verse three literally tells us, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.”
This blows my mind. I mean, come on Elijah. With God’s help you just faced-off with an entire crowd. You obliterated the prophets of Baal. You saw fire come down from heaven! God is on your side! And now you’re afraid and running for your life? I always imagine that God was not impressed at this point.
Notice this though: God’s response doesn’t reveal judgment and it doesn’t shame. He doesn’t leave Elijah to take care of himself, or even give him the silent treatment. Rather, Elijah, who is far out into the wilderness asleep under a bush, wakes to the smell of bread being cooked over hot coals.
This image makes me weep. I so closely identify with Elijah in this passage. I’ve experienced God’s faithfulness. I’ve experienced his power. Yet there are times when I’m afraid, I feel alone and unprotected. You could definitely find me curled up under a bush, exhausted and in total despair. And when I picture God coming onto this scene I expect a reprimand and a great divide. The thought of God responding with something so personal, so gentle as fresh baked bread—it’s almost too much.
Early in our marriage Jon and I walked through our own tough season. Honestly though, it was more like we limped through a tough season. Money was tight, we were new parents, and our future felt really unclear. Despite having experienced God’s faithfulness before, and despite having watched him sustain and protect us in the past, we were riddled with fear.
Surely God had forgotten us. Surely we were on our own. Surely we were doomed.
I land in this place way too easily, and I always come with impressive dramatics.
Our short-term memory had failed. It didn’t matter that in the past God had always provided for us. It didn’t matter that God had guided us through some really tough choices just the year before. It didn’t matter that our entire lives were sprinkled with signs of God’s goodness. I was sure we were doomed.
In the depths of the doubt-guilt condition, we threw a Hail Mary pass and whispered a prayer. “God, show us you’re still here. Show us you haven’t left us—even though we know we shouldn’t need it.”
And because sometimes we truly embody the concept of “ye of little faith” we asked for a sign: “Give us a gift card—any amount, to any place. This will be our sign that you haven’t left us for dead.”
Pretty arrogant. (I believe that now gives us a tally of doubt, guilt, and arrogance—but who’s keeping score?) God isn’t a circus monkey who jumps at our request, or a genie waiting around to wow us with his tricks. There is no reason he should even dignify this request with a response.
The next morning Jon headed out to a local coffee shop to get a jump on the day’s work. As he approached the door he noticed a homeless man sitting outside, trying to get his attention. This gentleman turned straight to Jon, and spoke: “God told me to give this to you, and I stopped believing in God years ago.” In his hand, of course, was a gift card.
I crumpled when I heard this. I was so humbled. Here I was hurling doubt, anger, and accusations. Here was God responding with over-the-top, undeserved grace and love.
Even in our lack of faith, even in our misplaced anger, God is gracious. He is close. He gives us sustenance for the journey. Sometimes it’s fresh bread cooking over hot coals, sometimes it’s a five-dollar gift card, but it’s always personal. It’s always just what we need if we have eyes to see it.
In our walk we are going to pass through hard seasons. We are going to struggle at times to have faith. Yet in these dark moments, let’s drop the guilt, and keep our hearts and eyes open for God’s grace that gives us strength to make it to through.